8 Ways to Differentiate a Worksheet

27 July 2016 / 1 comment
Eight ways to differentiate worksheets in your classroom. The last one has been a life saver, and is very empowering for the students!

Do you struggle to make one worksheet work for your whole class? Are you trying to differentiate without pulling your hair out? I have been there, and I feel for you. 

While I am not a worksheet kind of teacher, I do understand that they have their time and place in just about every classroom. While they are necessary, they can be difficult to reach every student with, and in the modern classroom that poses some serious issues. Differentiation is such a buzzword these days, as it should be with individualized learning, but it can add a lot to a teacher's workload. 

It doesn't have to though! Differentiation isn't always a big sweeping change in what you are doing, sometimes it is more about how you structure an assignment, than it is about the assignment itself. With this being said, I would like to share my 8 favorite ways to differentiate a worksheet. 

Highlighter

A highlighter is a magical little tool. It is super easy to stick one in your pocket or clip it to your lanyard so that you have it at a moment's notice to whip out and be ready to differentiate like a boss. I use a highlighter to select items for a student to complete. I use this tool when there are specific items that I need to see student's progress on. When using a highlighter it usually means that I am the one selecting which items need to be completed, and it is usually more than half of the items. 

Sometimes I will ask the student which item they are struggling with and work with them on that item, and then highlight items that will compliment their learning based on that item. A fringe benefit of using the highlighter is that students love the color that is added to their paper. My favorite highlighters are the Frixion erasable highlighters, because a teacher reserves the right to change her mind.

Evens or Odds

Evens or Odds is a great tool for students that struggle to complete an entire worksheet, but still need practice, or students who get bogged down thinking about completing a lot of items. This differentiation strategy is as easy as it sounds, students simply complete either the even or odd numbered items. 

To add a little bit of fun, and instantly engage students, I will play a quick game of evens or odds with them to determine whether they will be completing the Evens or Odds items. It gets them pumped every time.  

Fold In Half

This strategy, much like Evens or Odds works well when students should be completing about half of the items on a worksheet. This differentiation strategy is great for students that seem to get overwhelmed looking at an entire worksheet, so by folding the paper in half, they have less to look at and can be less intimidating. Similarly, you can continue folding the paper into fourths if a student needs to look at even less. 

Similarly, I have cut up worksheets into smaller pieces to give to students who need a little more to help ease their anxiety. In this case I give students one piece at a time, but often wind of giving them the whole assignment, just in pieces.

Select Items

This differentiation tool is amazing for students that need a little bit of control, because it offers choice. In this case I generally have a highlighter and meet with a student. I tell them what the different sections are and use my highlighter to split up the items based on standard. Then I write in highlighter how many of each item I expect them to complete. Finally, I leave the highlighter with the student to choose. It becomes their responsibility to choose items for each standard to highlight and complete. 

It absolutely amazes me how students exceed my expectations just about every time I use this strategy. The idea that the teacher is allowing them the choice of which problems they wish to complete is empowering, and they really take it on. 

Create a Challenge

This differentiation strategy is great for students that are fully capable of completing an assignment, but lack the motivation or follow through. A challenge can take on many different forms, but it is basically simple reverse psychology. It sounds a little something like, "This is a tough one, it is actually something I would ask fifth graders (if you are teaching fourth grade) to do, but I think you might be able to get through it. What do you think?"

Then I ask students to tell me how many of the items they think they can complete correctly, and we essentially make a little wager. Usually it is something along the lines of if you complete ___ items correctly then you can take your shoes off for the rest of the day. 

This strategy works with a very specific type of student, and not every time, but it can be a life saver. 

Cooperative Structure

I am a huge proponent of cooperative learning in every aspect, but it is a miracle worker when it comes to differentiation. It is a powerful tool for all learners, but it is especially great for our English Language Learners. 

My favorite cooperative learning structure for completing a worksheet is Sage-N-Scribe, because it allows students to help each other all while voicing exactly what they are doing. 

To complete Sage-N-Scribe
1. Partner A has the pencil
2. Partner B thinks out loud while Partner A scribes for them giving them praise or corrections
3. Partner A and Partner B switch rolls and repeat

This strategy is amazing for all students, because voicing their thinking really makes them work on their metacognition and work on academic vocabulary. It also allows me, as the teacher, to hear how my students are doing. 

It is sometimes hard to remember that students need differentiation in both directions, so these next two strategies focus on differentiation for our faster workers, higher achievers, and creative thinkers, but area great for students of all skill levels. 


Extension Question

This differentiation strategy can go one of two ways:
1. The teacher writes an extension question on the board for students to respond to.
2. Students create their own extension question to respond to. 

Both of these options are powerful, but I would argue that the more creative questions and explanations come from the students. 

Become the Expert 

Eight ways to differentiate worksheets in your classroom. The last one has been a life saver, and is very empowering for the students! I love this strategy when we are working on mastery. While students are working, as they show mastery of a standard I given them a pen, I used purple, and they were then allowed to move around the room and offer help to other students. 

This tool can be really powerful in giving confidence to students and giving them control of their learning. It is also a great motivator to get students working. I purposely look for students that sometimes struggle to give the almighty purple pen to, because they are actually getting more practice while helping others. 

Wrapping Up

These eight strategies have worked miracles for me, and I know that they can be a great set of tools to add to your toolbox as well. What strategies have you tried?

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Ideas for Decorating With Anchor Charts

25 July 2016 / Leave a Comment
Decorating with anchor charts during back to school.

Today I'm excited to share ways to use anchor charts to decorate your classroom. So many of us have limited budgets, time and wall space. Creating your classroom environment with your students will lessen stress! More importantly, it will provide engaging and meaningful content to your classroom setting. The students will have ownership and refer back to the charts. I have seen my students look back to the wall where a chart once hung, as they worked on a classroom skill. As you head back to school, use these tips to reduce the stress of classroom decorating.

1. Only Decorate the Background and Border of your Bulletin Boards

Bulletin boards are precious real estate. Use them to your advantage to immerse your students in learning. I love the clean look of this board, prepped and ready for students. (NOTE: All images are clickable and will direct you to the original post/site.)
Bulletin board back to school ready for anchor charts
Credit: Life in First Grade 

Ideas for Bulletin Board Materials:

Ideas for backgrounds:
  • school furnished bulletin board paper on large rolls.
  • gift wrap
  • interior or exterior house paint
  • newspaper comics
  • fabric (so many bright colors in solids and prints. Fabrics are a bit more expensive but they last.  They are also a great way to bring cohesion to your classroom if you use the same fabric or shades of color for curtains, etc.)
  • felt (I purchased felt fabric because it was on sale in the solid color I wanted.  It is wonderful.  Holds up well and you can use velcro, tacks, or staples to attach to it.)
Ideas for borders: 
  • ribbon
  • netting
  • burlap
  • premade borders
Premade borders are available online and in stores.  Here are some ideas with clickable links to the stores.


Superhero themed classroom

Lemon and gray double sided border



Marquee
Jigsaw: Perfect for cooperation, unity, and diversity
If you are interested in overlapping/layering your borders, check out this video by Kinder Craze for tips.


Add a Banner:

How cute is this banner by Mrs. Ricca's Kindergarten!  You can grab her polka dot banners for "welcome, read, write, and word wall" free in her Teacher's Pay Teachers Store! (Click HERE)



2. Tips for Keeping Anchor Charts Evergreen and Decorative

I love this pin from the Pinspired Teacher.  She has some terrific anchor chart tips on her blog.

Add longevity:

  • Laminate a bare bones copy of your anchor chart (minus the interactive element you do with the students.) Next year erase and reuse the same chart.
  • Use post-it notes to add details and interactive pieces.
  • Take photos, reduce the size, and use in interactive notebooks.
  • Take photos and place them in a binder for easy reference for you and your current students.
Credit:The Pinspired Teacher

Credit: Upper Elementary Snapshots
For an easy to follow tutorial on converting anchor charts to worksheets visit Upper Grades Are Awesome.

Add Decoration:

  • Cut out clipart or photos to preassemble the framework of your anchor chart.
  • Use fun fonts or word art to create headers or bullets for your anchor charts.
  • Let students illustrate anchor charts.
  • Purchase premade anchor chart accessories on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Use the search term "anchor charts." You will find premade anchor charts and accessories such as this literacy set by The Applicious Teacher.
Great tutorial for using word art:


3. Tips for Hanging and Storing Anchor Charts

You might have purchased or made a chart stand out of PVC pipe.  If you don't have one, just grab this tip from Fun With Firsties!  All you need is a set of command hooks, binder rings, and a tension rod.


Label and store your charts for easy access with this idea from Teaching With a Mountain View.


Well, I hope this helps take off some of the stress as you ready your classroom during back to school planning.  Letting the students build the decor through meaningful learning, will not only save you time at the beginning of the year, but will pay off in dividends for your students!

Best wishes for your new school year!


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DIY Classroom Organizing Tips & Tricks

23 July 2016 / 2 comments
As teachers we are always on the look out for cheap, fast and easy organizing tips and tricks.  My most recent DIY is so simple I don't know why I haven't done it sooner.  You probably have, but just in case I am not the last person on the planet to implement this trick I wanted to share it, and a few other ideas that make classroom life easier and a little more organized.   I use yarn for a lot of different things in the classroom and I have tried a few different techniques for trying to keep the yarn from becoming either a tangled mess, or an unraveled nightmare that would delight my baby kitty.  I just recently made a trip to our local recycled supply store (also known as teacher heaven) and stumbled across this genius trick that also happens to be a great reuse of my Kirkland Mixed Nuts containers that I have always saves, but never quite known what for! Now I do!  All you need: 1 good size plastic container with a lid 1 power drill with a  1/2 inch bit  I had Dad2punkerdoo help me with the drill, because he's just really good with that kind of stuff.  He made sure the lid was screwed tightly on the container, eyeballed the center, and then in about 3 seconds drilled a perfectly sized hole.  I simply placed my yarn inside, threaded the end through the hole, and ta-da...there you have it! A simple DIY solution for keeping your yarn from becoming a mess.  I have got a few other organizing tips and tricks over on Mom2punkerdoo

As teachers we are always on the look out for cheap, fast, and easy classroom organizing tips and tricks.  My most recent DIY is so simple I don't know why I haven't done it sooner.  You probably have, but just in case I am not the last person on the planet to implement this trick I wanted to share it, and a few other ideas that make classroom life easier and a little more organized.

I use yarn for a lot of different things in the classroom and I have tried a few different techniques for trying to keep the yarn from becoming either a tangled mess, or an unraveled nightmare that would delight my baby kitty.  I just recently made a trip to our local recycled supply store (also known as teacher heaven) and stumbled across this genius trick. I love that it also happens to be a great reuse of my Kirkland Mixed Nuts containers that I have always saved, but never quite known what for! Now I do!

All you need:
1 good size plastic container with a lid
1 power drill with a  1/2 inch bit

I had Dad2punkerdoo help me with the drill, because he's just really good with that kind of stuff.  He made sure the lid was screwed tightly on the container, eyeballed the center, and then in about 3 seconds drilled a perfectly sized hole.  I simply placed my yarn inside, threaded the end through the hole, and ta-da...there you have it! A simple DIY solution for keeping your yarn from becoming a mess.

I have got a few other organizing tips and tricks posted over on Mom2punkerdoo click on the links below to read more!

Click for more ideas and a FREEBIE

Click for a few more fun ideas and a DIY basket! 

Be sure to check out my classroom organization board on Pinterest for many more useful ideas to getting your classroom organized!

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DIY: Creating No-Sew Curtains

21 July 2016 / 2 comments
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
If you're looking for a way to spruce up your classroom, office, or even a room in your home - I have the perfect DIY project for you. It's easy, inexpensive, and best of all? It requires no sewing!
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.

DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
Curtain rods 
I used spring mounted rods since I am not allowed to make holes in the walls at school. Be sure you measure your windows as they sell several different sizes - something I had to learn the hard way...
Fabric scraps, ribbons, lace, etc. 
Back in the day I used to do a lot of quilting, so I have a lot of scraps of fabric in my storage closet, but you can also purchase fat quarters or even miscellaneous bits of fabric at your local craft store.
Scissors
Fabric scissors are the best, but you could also use pinking shears or regular scissors as long as they are sharp enough to cut the fabric.
Ruler
Anything that measures in inches will work, but honestly you could "eyeball it" in a pinch.
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
Cutting board and rotary cutter
As I mentioned before, I have a lot of leftover supplies from my quilting days, so I used these instead of scissors. I found it to be faster, but it's totally optional.
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
Use the ruler to measure and mark the fabric at 2-inch increments. (I found that 2-inch wide strips make for a nice curtain or valance. You might experiment with different widths or even use various widths to add interest.) If you are using ribbon or lace, you can skip this part.
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.

DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
After cutting your fabric into 2-inch wide strips, determine the desired length of your curtains. For me, I wanted some light to still come through the bottom of my windows, so I made my strips 43-45 inches long. Really, I was using scraps and I just figured whatever width I had was good enough. BUT, it's important to remember that you'll need TWICE the length (plus a couple inches) since each strip will be tied in the middle, giving you two hanging parts.
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
You might want to create a pattern of some sort or you may prefer a more random approach. My poor OCD mind couldn't handle too much "random", so I chose to follow the color order of the rainbow. My classroom already has a lot of red, so I swapped pink for red in my pattern and included several shades of some colors.
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
Once you've determined the order you want your fabric strips, begin tying them to the curtain rod. Since my windows are super high and I never really touch the curtains, I didn't knot the fabric strips. I just tied them once. This held the fabric in place without adding too much bulk. I liked the look, but I have seen it done several ways and you might prefer the knotted look. Go ahead and experiment. That's half the fun!
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
As you tie the fabric to the curtain rod, squish the tied pieces together to create a fuller curtain. Spread them out if you prefer a less puffy look. Once you're happy with the look, continue tying fabric strips to the curtain rod until it is completely full.
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
What are you waiting for?!? You're done. That's it. Nothing more. Just hang those cheerful curtains up in the window or door frame and enjoy your perfectly amazing work! In fact, take a picture and post it to Instagram. Tag me @iteachstem so I can see your version of these super easy curtains!
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.
I have two windows and a back door, so I made three sets of these curtains so everything would be matchy-matchy, just the way I like it!

And...
I loved making these so much that I ended up creating a table skirt for the ceramic art studio my hubby and I own to hide the clutter of boxes and bubble wrap and unfinished pieces. They are so cute and WAY easy. I just tied the fabric strips to wooden dowel rods and used command hooks to attach them to the table! I'm in love!
DIY Teacher Hack: How to create cute, custom, no-sew curtains for your classroom. Add a colorful touch to any room using scrap material, ribbons, or lace. Don't miss this tutorial.

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Alternative to Traditional Bulletin Boards

19 July 2016 / 1 comment


Do you have a love-hate relationship with bulletin boards? I love how bulletin boards can enhance a classroom and I LOVE displaying student work, but I hate trying to get the bulletin board paper up and smooth. Then there is the border that is like doing a puzzle without a picture! That's how I began using my window blinds as a bulletin board.

Here is an alternative to having to deal with hanging bulletin board paper and border. Use the window blinds instead!


Transform the window blinds from boring to bright! Simply use paperclips on the blind slat that you want to hold your item. Since you are holding the paper with paperclips, you eliminate putting holes or taping student work. The paperclips blend in nicely, so they don't distract from what you are displaying. Here is a close up look.... You can barely see the paperclip!


If the item you are displaying is a little heavy or large, I would recommend using 2 paperclips.  For example, we used 2 on the ants pictured below. 


When you are ready to change out the items on display, simply slide the items out of the paperclips. I don't take my paperclips off of the blinds. I already have them spaced out and all on the same slat. This way, I don't have to put any effort into making sure everything is straight or evenly spaced out. Win!

Bonus: Your blinds can still be put down during a drill or emergency situation. I have been doing this window display for years and we've never had any trouble with the fire inspection. 

Are you sick of trying to hang bulletin board paper without creases and so it looks right? Try this alternative bulletin board to save yourself the headache and time!!

Want more tips and resources? Be sure to follow along on my blog, Mrs. P's Specialties and on Pinterest.

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DIY Paint Can Back to School Survival Kit

17 July 2016 / 1 comment
DIY Paint Can Back to School Survival Kit for Teachers - Perfect for teacher gifts
With Back to School just around the corner, why not get an early start and do a fun, little DIY project? We've all seen those Back to School Survival Kits that you can make to give to teachers, but this unique kit is sure to grab some attention.  First of all, who knew you could buy brand-new, empty paint cans? When I discovered this, I just knew I had the perfect use for one of those shiny pails. Just look at this oh-so-inviting Back to School Survival Kit!

Here is what you need:

  • A new, unused, empty paint can (I bought mine at my local Home Depot).
  • Candy, school supplies, treats.  I included bubble gum, band aids, crayons, glue stick, travel size kleenex, life savers, paper clips, index cards, post-it notes, Milky Way, Jolly Ranchers, Nutter Butters, pencils, pencil sharpener, and erasers.
  • Colorful ribbon
  • Label for the outside
  • Note to teacher with a list of contents and their meanings for the inside
 Assembling your kit is quite simple, once you have gathered your supplies! First cut out the paint can label and the Note to Teacher. You can create your own, or feel free to download the FREE labels as shown in the photo.

Paint Can Back to School Survival Kit for Teachers

Next, start packing the items into the paint can. 
Paint Can Back to School Survival Kit for Teachers

At first glance, it looks like you won't be able to fit everything in the can. With some careful packing, though, it can be done.  Just be sure NOT to forget your list of contents and their meanings in the can before it gets too full! 

Paint Can Back to School Survival Kit for TeachersPaint Can Back to School Survival Kit for Teachers


Once your can is filled, add your Back to School Survival Kit label.  Glue the label to the front of the paint can.
Paint Can Back to School Survival Kit for Teachers

Once the label is neatly in place on your can, add some colorful ribbon. I chose some spare red ribbon I had left over from another project.  I think it is perfect!
Paint Can Back to School Survival Kit for Teachers

Now, the fun part: Give your Back to School Survival Kit to a lucky teacher! I can assure you that everyone will ask where it came from! Isn't it adorable? 

To download the FREE Back to School Survival Kit packet, click HERE.

Thanks so much for visiting!  I'd love to connect with you on my Facebook page, Appletastic: Blossoming in Fifth Grade!
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